Deer Scout on Kierkegaard, Kate Bush, and the creation of Woodpecker

By Abbie Jones

Photography courtesy of Dena Miller

Set to release her debut full-length with Carpark Records early this April, Deer Scout’s Dena Miller sat down with Slumber Mag to discuss the creative process that influenced the album, her love and admiration for Kate Bush, and she shared a few photos from her life in Brooklyn. Read our conversation below.

I love to run around the loop in Prospect Park. Sometimes I listen to the same song on repeat the whole time (most recently ‘Hot Town’ by Lucy.)

Slumber: Can you take about the inspiration behind the album title: “Woodpecker”

Dena: There is this one type of woodpecker and when I see it it’s an omen for me. A lot of the songs are about the subconscious, and things you know before you know them. Songs are totally like dreams in the sense that they come out of your brain with images and symbols you don’t always immediately understand, then they make sense after some time goes by.

Sophie rearranging her room after I tried to install shelves unsuccessfully. The next week I went back with a better stud finder and got them on the wall after many hours and lots of math. I felt amazing afterwards.

Sage showing Ko and I the trunk where they keep the horse hair that was the stuffing inside of an antique loveseat they bought on Craigslist and reupholstered–by far the most impressive home improvement project I’ve ever seen.

Slumber: Can you tell me about the recording process for Woodpecker? How was it collaborating with all the instrumentalists on the album?

Dena: One of my favorite parts of making music is having collaborators add their handprints to songs — that’s what usually makes a song feel done to me. Zuzia Weyman plays cello and Ko Takasugi-Czernowin plays bass on most of the songs on the album. Zuzia’s parts always feel friendly to me and Ko’s feel mischievous. I started demoing in 2017, and most of the recording happened from 2019-2020 with Heather Jones at So Big Auditory in Philly in very spread-out sessions. Recording and mixing also felt very collaborative because Heather was really open about the process of making the instruments and space sound the way they do, and we did some arranging together. Heather reached out to Madel Rafter who plays in the band Snake Boy Gang, who we had played a show with a long time ago, and they played drum parts on Cup and Breaking the Rock. Henry Munson also did amazing pedal steelwork on the last song. It was great to get to work with so many friends.

Zuzia, Joanna and I having band practice at Joanna’s. We’re working on drum parts for new songs and old songs that haven’t ever had drums. Joanna’s a pro and sounds great, plus they’re wonderful to hang out with.

Slumber: It was such a joy to re-hear some of those songs from the archives. For instance, “Synesthesia.” I remember you playing that on tour bunch back in 2017.  What was the songwriting process for that song? Do you feel like it’s changed shape since? 

Dena: Part of the song was written taking the train into Philly to a house show at all night diner, part of it was written after one of the sets at that show that was really incredible, and the rest of it on the way home. When we recorded it, Andrea Asprelli added a fiddle part and harmonies that I think do change the shape.

Slumber: Tell me about the song Peace of the Damage? What was the process of creating it? 

Dena: My dad wrote that song! He’s one of my favorite songwriters. We recorded It together in 2016 or 2017 not thinking it would go on this album,  Then when the album was done, I decided to keep that track and re-record another vocal take on top of it as a duet. My voice sounded so much younger listening back.  I wanted the cover to feel like a dialogue between a younger and older self.

Ko making pasta sauce. They were staying with me and I had the intention of cooking them dinner but I got distracted by the conversation so they took over making the sauce.

Lyris showed me a new Aldous Harding video where she turns into a lizard. It’s extremely up my alley. This corner of our apartment is dedicated to Kate Bush, Houdini, Josephine Baker, and Christmas.

Slumber: What we’re your biggest influences throughout the writing process of Woodpecker  (music/books/movies)? How have they influenced you?

Dena: Pieces of conversations and things friends say are where a lot of the lyrics come from. Also recurring dreams and memories. Jenny Lewis is an artist whose songwriting has had a big influence on me. Biblical stories and Fear and Trembling by ​​Søren Kierkegaard are also influences on parts of the album.

I went to see a late night screening of Shortbus with Sophie and Gloria. It’s one of my favorite movies and the director, John Cameron Mitchell answered a few questions at the beginning. There are so many movies about New York but this one really makes me glad I live here.

Slumber: How has working with Carpark been? Was the record finished prior to working with the label?

Dena: Working with Carpark has been wonderful! The album was done before, but they helped with music videos, press photos, and all the promotional stuff that I’m not great at myself. It’s so nice to have the support of people who understand the business side of things and have so much experience putting out records.

A pileated woodpecker I saw with Sophie at a park in Mount Pleasant (25 miles north of NYC.) Red-bellied woodpeckers are an omen for me. Seeing one means that something good or bad is about to happen, and whichever you think it is, it’s actually going to be the opposite. I don’t have any superstitions about pileated woodpeckers, but they’re really cool looking and kind of rare so I was excited to see this one.

Slumber: If you could share the stage with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Dena: Kate Bush so I’d get to see her live! She’s a genius and an idol of mine.

Listen to Deer Scout’s new single “Peace with the Damage” below and pre-order ‘Woodpecker’ out April 8th via Carpark Records